Written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh, Felon is a raw story (based on actual events) about life in prison for a first-timer who ended up in the system because of one fatal night where making a life-altering mistake was almost inevitable. Starring Stephen Dorff as Wade Porter, a blue-collar family man with a sweet-natured fiancée (played by Marisol Nichols), who is excitedly planning to startup a construction company, his dreams of building a bright future for his soon-to-be wife and son gets ripped away in an instant when a burglar enters their home.
Awakened by a bang in the other room, Wade races after the noise and finds an intruder standing there. As he chases him out onto the front yard, with his adrenaline pumping and a bat in hand, he strikes the crook. Believing the guy was reaching for a gun in his pocket, logic went right out the window, changing Wade’s life forever.
According to Dorff, “I feel that [my character] ran after the burglar in fear and from an adrenaline rush and made a human mistake.
“The film shows we’re all fragile when pushed into impossible circumstances.”
One blow to the head and the burglar’s life ends. In many ways, so does Wade’s and to portray the emotional depth of a character that loses everything as circumstances force him to transform into someone else takes real talent. And not only does Dorff pull it off, he manages to grab a hold of the audiences’ hand and lead us into a place that literally defines darkness.
While Dorff has been in numerous films including Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, his gritty performance in Felon is by far one of the best. There are certain things we all fear and going to prison is definitely one of them. The legal system is a gamble and while bad guys can walk free, good guys can get locked up.
MSNBC takes viewers behind prison walls through a series called Lockup, introducing us to “bad guys” – gangsters, robbers, murderers, rapists, etc…, however, rarely do we witness those prisoners who were just “everyday people” caught up in a bad, unfortunate moment. As brutal as Lockup can be, we are separated from it, emotionally, by the crimes the prisoners committed. Feeling as if we will never commit heinous crimes such as murder, we are comforted in the false belief that we will never go to prison. However, in Felon, Dorff’s character never imagined he would do something to land him in the world where lost, forgotten souls reside, either. That is, until the law failed him. Sentenced to spend years deteriorating, Wade finds it difficult to wrap his brain around the fact that he is stuck in hell for defending his family and his home.
Initially entering prison, Dorff’s character, Wade, cries out in desperation, followed by accepting his fate and trying to survive and finally, as time goes by and the system treats him like everyone else (a worthless scumbag), his character reaches a breaking point. Who Wade once was is almost completely eaten away by the cruel and inhumane lifestyle that he is engulfed in. And as he suffers inside (literally and metaphorically speaking), his fiancée faces her own struggles on the “outs.” Forced to sell her home, spend the money for their business while trying to raise their son on her own, Wade’s only reason for holding on starts to crumble as she begins to let go.
“This film completely changed my view on prison,” said Dorff. “It’s not a place you want to be. It’s a different world behind bars.”
Not only does prison life affect the prisoners, it can easily corrupt the guards, as well. And if you think that the guards in prisons are upstanding citizens trying to keep order amongst society’s deviants…think again. Harold Perrineau plays Lt. Jackson, a father, a kind neighbor, friend, and role-model on the outside but once he steps into “prison-world”, Jackson becomes a different man and every prisoner, including Wade, suffers as a result of his own deep-seated issues.
Rapidly losing himself, Wade’s cellmate, John Smith (played by Val Kilmer), a “lifer” who took the law into his own hands, helps Wade fight to keep from permanently falling into the pit of hopelessness.
When asked what it was like working with Kilmer, Dorff stated, “Val immersed himself into that role and we had a blast.”
In the end, does Kilmer’s character manage to keep Wade from crossing that imaginary line where insanity roams or has prison life already pushed him over the edge?
Written with a rare intensity that blows other prison-type films away, Felon is a must-see and Dorff’s performance is what pulls us into his character’s world, enabling the audience to feel what it would be like to be convicted of a felon and sentenced to a world we can’t otherwise imagine.
As far as getting prepared for such an emotionally challenging role, Dorff had this to say: “It is not something I can dissect and explain. I never really know what’s going to happen. I just try to submerge myself into Wade’s world, feel what he’s feeling, and let the reactions happen.
“Felon was an amazing script with an incredible character that goes through an even more incredible transformation.”